NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The way Russell Westbrook saw it, Wednesday night's game at New Orleans was a must win.
The Thunder had lost four of their past six and were missing forward Kevin Durant — out with a sprained left big toe — for the fourth time in five games.
All Westbrook did against a hot Pelicans team was tie a career high with 45 points in leading the Thunder to a 102-91 win.
"Just trying to find a way to keep us in the game and get us a win," Westbrook said. "This was a must-win for us coming into their building. That was my only thing."
Down 91-89 with a little less than six minutes to play, Westbrook found a way to not just keep the Thunder (25-24) in the game, but to put them ahead for good.
Starting with a Serge Ibaka dunk assisted by Westbrook, Oklahoma City finished on a 13-0 run over the final five minutes. Westbrook had two assists and four points in the closing stretch.
The last time Westbrook scored 45, the Thunder needed two overtimes to beat Minnesota on March 23, 2012. This time, all it took was regulation.
"Russell is as competitive as any player I have been around," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "He obviously has the talent and the skill base, but his heart and his desire to win, and to win every possession, is what makes him great."
New Orleans (26-23) had won six of its past seven games, including a stirring 15-point victory over Atlanta, which came in having won 19 straight.
While Westbrook scored 25 first-half points, including a career-best for one quarter— 19 in the first — the Pelicans maintained momentum behind 25 points from their bench. And Quincy Pondexter's buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave New Orleans a 57-51 halftime.
But after building to a 68-57 lead midway through the third, Westbrook, along with teammate Serge Ibaka, took over. They combined for 15 points in four minutes, wiping out New Orleans' double-digit lead and giving Oklahoma City the momentum and energy it lacked in the first half.
"Defensively, I thought Russell just had his way with us tonight, whether it was coming off screens or knocking down shots," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "We did not have an answer for him."
Not even All-Star forward Anthony Davis could give New Orleans that spark. Though Davis finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, he didn't dominate down the stretch like he has during the Pelicans recent run.
That was largely due to Ibaka, whose 13 points all came in the second half and whose six rebounds and seven blocks helped seal the inside for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City outscored New Orleans in the paint 66-46 and held New Orleans to just 38.5 percent shooting, including 14 of 46 in the second half.
"We got down, I think it was 11 at one point, and we didn't get thrown apart," Brooks said. "We still stuck together and figured out ways to get stops and score in transition off of those stops. That is how we win."
The two teams meet again Friday in Oklahoma City.
Thunder: Anthony Morrow scored 14 points, including two fourth-quarter 3-pointers. The former Pelican made both 3-pointers in front of the New Orleans bench.
Pelicans: New Orleans lost for just the second time at home this season when at least seven players record assists. They had won 13 straight at home when doing so.
Thunder: Host New Orleans on Friday
Pelicans: At Oklahoma City on Friday
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Posted on Thu, February 5, 2015
by BRADLEY HANDWERGER, Associated Press